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Why we stand with Muslim protesters

If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

– Malcolm X

Why we stand with Muslim protesters

Socialist Alternative’s article Police brutalise peaceful Muslim protest in Sydney has provoked an outpouring of responses on social media, write the editors of Socialist Alternative. Many were predictable right wing rants that find echo in today’s op ed pages – scrap multiculturalism, stop Muslim immigration etc. But many other critical comments came from people whose usual instinct, so they claim, is not to side with cops. The sentiment of many who might otherwise take decent positions – such as support for trade unions and opposition to imperialist war – was captured by one of our readers’ comments: “No support for Islamists or the police!”

Equating the armed might of the state with Muslim protesters bearing placards is ridiculous. Yet furore has engulfed the country over the fact that some of the placards at Saturday’s protest contained clearly reactionary slogans. Some are asking why Socialist Alternative has not at least criticised the demonstration on this basis.

Saturday’s rally was called in response to anti-Muslim bigotry. That there were people present who had objectionable placards and slogans doesn’t change this fact. If the left refused to support protests by oppressed people unless we agreed with every political view expressed, we would have had to denounce almost every protest movement in history – including the South African struggle against apartheid and the civil rights movement in the US.

Our starting point is to offer solidarity when the oppressed fight back. Muslims are one of the most demonised, repressed and over-policed communities in Australia. Socialist Alternative members in Sydney joined the protest on Saturday as a sign of that elementary solidarity. To say “We oppose attacks on Muslims, but we won’t support their struggle against racism unless they behave themselves and/or conform to our beliefs”, is in our opinion profoundly mistaken and a capitulation to the oppressors. Today, in Australia, we think it vitally important that anti-racists ask themselves one question: “Is my opposition to racism and oppression conditional?” The answer should be uncompromising: “Never.”

On Saturday, 500 Muslims demonstrators including children were attacked by hundreds of heavily armed police. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that “riot police, mounted officers and the dog squad were sent to Hyde Park, and later a staging post in Stanley Street in east Sydney, before protesters arrived.” So the police came looking for a fight. Protesters were tasered, capsicum-sprayed, batoned and set upon by dogs and horses. This incident is part of the broader tide of racism against Muslims. As protester Sarah Jacob said, “They call us the terrorists. But everyone is terrorising our people.”

We ask people who consider themselves anti-racist, but who have equivocated on the question of Saturday’s rally to reconsider their position. In particular consider the context: The people demonstrating have seen hundreds of thousands of their brothers and sisters across the Middle East slaughtered by US imperialism and its allies – Israel routinely and loudly celebrates every time it assassinates Palestinian activists. Muslims have endured the war on terror – an ideological offensive that has sought to denigrate their beliefs, belittle their culture, and demonise them as a people. Many have been subject to day-to-day harassment, intimidation and extra surveillance at the hands of the state – including having their homes raided as occurred in Melbourne last week, and being locked up for thought crimes. Others have been locked up for years in desert camps simply for seeking asylum in this country.

Yet when some of them find the courage to protest against racism in the face of all the intimidation they daily endure, there are front page denunciations across the country.

The people and the institutions that have waged war on Muslims over the last decade claim to stand for freedom and democratic values. They have denounced Saturday’s rally as intolerant, and “not the Australian way”. But just last month CFMEU members at Grocon’s building sites in Melbourne protested for such basic rights as being able to have union-appointed workplace health and safety reps. The establishment that is today denouncing Muslims was then denouncing the unionists. “Reign of Fear and Intimidation Grows… Bikies, Thugs Hijack Work Sites” screamed the Herald Sun front page. Politicians of every colour lined up to back multi-millionaire Daniel Grollo in his quest to crush the union. That’s the “Australian way” they want to defend – one where everyone is expected to lie down and cop a kicking at the hands of the rich and powerful.

The reality is that the more the media gets away with demonising Muslim protests the more they get away with demonising picket lines and unions. We have to stand with whoever is under attack, even if we don’t agree with every last one of their tactics or slogans. This is how solidarity is built between all those standing up to the same enemy.

In Socialist Alternative’s opinion, it is either delusional or disingenuous to think that reactionary slogans at an anti-racist demonstration are in any way comparable to the brutality of the Australian ruling class and its state apparatus.

It was the cops, not Muslim protesters, who came in their hundreds – with batons, dogs and pepper spray – to smash the CFMEU picket in Melbourne last month. It is the cops, not Muslim protesters, who are responsible for so many Aboriginal deaths in custody. It is the secular ALP, not Muslim groups, that continues to implement genocidal assimilationist policies against Aboriginal people and which continues vulgar state-based discrimination towards gays and lesbians.

Both major parties, but not Muslims protesters, have locked up thousands of asylum seekers in what are effectively prisons. The political mainstream, not a tiny Islamist fringe, have collaborated to deport several thousand more to Nauru and Manus Island, where they will languish in tents in detention camps. It is conservative newspaper columnists like Andrew Bolt, not radical Islamists, whose reactionary ideas are distributed via newsagents and supermarkets across the country every day. And while the Australian political and military establishment doesn’t call for beheadings, it participates in the actual slaughter of civilians in the region and around the world.

That all this has been missed in the cacophony of denunciations of Saturday’s rally is an indication of how deep anti-Muslim prejudice actually runs in Australia.

Some have been moved by the fact that mainstream Muslim organisations have distanced themselves from the protest. An array of what are regarded as “acceptable” Muslims have been interviewed for a bout of necessary hand-wringing over the protest. Mariam Veiszadeh’s response was typical of many over the last two days, and reinforced the idea that racism against Muslims is somehow the result of the behaviour of Muslims: “Each time individuals in the community engage in violent behaviour or criminal behaviour, the rest of the community is dragged through the mud and essentially put on trial”.

Such sentiments are always voiced from the more conservative elements of oppressed groups. The Zionists in the 20th century blamed European anti-Semitism on outspoken activist Jews, and today some Australian Aboriginal leaders blame the lack of a work ethic for Aboriginal disadvantage. Their ideas are totally misplaced. The reality is that no matter what Muslims do, the establishment promotes racism against them. The only way to beat it is to fight it, not apologise for it.

Greens leader Christine Milne has issued a press release condemning “violent protest” and praising the “clear statements from leaders and members of the Islamic community…condemning the violence and noting that this protest is not representative of them”. This is hand-wringing of a much worse kind than that by the various Muslim spokespeople. Not only does it regurgitate all the media hysteria about violence, it gives voice to a supposedly left wing moral outrage at protests that aren’t passive. Socialist Alternative’s position here is again clear: You don’t really support the oppressed if your support evaporates as soon as they can no longer be seen as just helpless victims.

In short, leftists who support strikes only if there are no picket lines to fight off the cops and keep out the scabs, who support Indigenous people only if they don’t offend, who support Muslims only if they have acceptable signs and let the police attack them, are not worthy of the name. To those who ask why we haven’t criticised the demonstration, we in turn ask: “Why have you lined up with the cops and the ruling class against an oppressed minority?”

Here is a link to a Socialist Alternative video of eyewitness shots of the police violence.



Comment from Jack
Time September 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I condemn the police violence, and naturally support the right to protest and to resist the state.
However, you say:
” We have to stand with whoever is under attack, even if we don’t agree with every last one of their tactics or slogans.”

‘Every last one’? Their tactics are fine with me, but how many of their slogans/views do you actually agree with? How far are you willing to compromise?

Comment from John
Time September 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

And the point is – which side are you on or do you end up on.

Comment from jack
Time September 18, 2012 at 1:02 am

So you are saying that I have to make a choice between the state which I cannot and will not support, and a group of people at a demo who have and express many views/slogans that I (and you) find offensive and outrageous. This is not a great choice to have to make… how can the state? And why should I give my full unconditional support to the views aired? This is a non-choice…

Comment from John
Time September 18, 2012 at 6:07 am

I am trying to think of other analogies. When Palestinians resist Zionism do we condemn the Palestinians either for the fact Hamas is an expression of religious views we oppose or for the stupid tactics of firing rockets into Israel, or do we stand with them in the fight against Zionism? When the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was part of the fight against mubarak my comrades in Egypt had a slogan sometimes with the Islamists, never with the state. The MB was all over the place on the ground and its young active members often defended the Revolutionary Socialists and worked with them. During the Mubarak years the RSE had been one of the few groups to defend the MB from Mubarak’s attacks and worked together with some elements (eg on campus) clandestinely. In Australia this is one of those times to be with Muslims, and not with the State. I think the festival of reaction unleashed by these events shows that we have to side with the demonstrators and against the State and the reactionaries.

Comment from tom
Time September 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm

hey Jack, why do say you” naturally ” resist the state,, do you really mean that you “regardlessly ” resist the state just just because it is there,, with no regard for whether it is right or wrong.. you simply resist for no particular reason other than you simply resist…. are you really that stupid that you only have one option,,, that is to resist everything… hahahahah you are so easily led . cant you think of anything other to do than RESIST ALL.. does not the STATE provide you wit a beautiful place to live where you are free to make choices and voice your opinions.A safe place to live,a job, a home . Do you RESIST having so many wonderfull free services open to you… etc…etc… dont bite the hand that feeds you..

Comment from John Richardson
Time September 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

‘Hello, my name is Andrew & I’m here to help.’
Now I know that many of you were shocked by the wicked behaviour of around 100 Muslim demonstrators in Sydney this week, but don’t worry, we have the situation under control.
To those wicked extremist Muslim offenders, who might think that such behaviour is acceptable in this country, let me remind you that ‘this is not Libya’ & we don’t do things like that in this country. To see a young child with a placard thrust in his hand, calling for the beheading of a person is simply something I cannot comprehend. It’s just not what we teach our children.” (Besides, little Johnnie is far too busy shooting those evil terrorists up on his Pacman to be worried about signage.)
Now, some of you might think that my comments are a little hypocritical, given our recent history: the violent anglo-celtic attacks on the Australian Parliament in 1996; the violent race riots in Cronulla in 2005; the violent anti-racist demonstrations by Indian students in Melbourne & Sydney in 2009 or more recently the anti-carbon tax, anti-mining-tax, anti-gay marriage, anti-whaling, anti-Julia, anti-everything protests everywhere, to mention just a few.
Some older members of our audience might even recall the wonderful Moratorium movement in 1969/1970, when hundreds of thousands of anglo-celt Australians protested around the country, in often violent demonstrations, against our involvement in the Vietnam War … those were the days.
But you new people have to understand that only real Awstraylans are allowed the privilege of such behaviour. If you can’t accept that, you should go back to where you came from.
Just because we accept that Alan Jones can broadcast racist slurs by referring to ‘Lebanese thugs’ & say that the Prime Minister ‘should be put in a chaff bag & dumped at sea’, doesn’t mean that you can parade around the place with nasty signs. Just because anglo-celts can carry signs saying ‘Ditch the Witch’ or ‘JuLIAR – Bob Brown’s bitch’, doesn’t mean that we have to accept your offensive ways.
You nasty kaftan-wearing people have to get with the program.
As I’ve observed many times, ‘you don’t wear a balaclava, you don’t wear a face-covering unless you’re going to get up to badness & we saw plenty of those in the crowd.’ So lose those skull caps & burquas quick smart.
Of course, as we know that you’ll understand, Police & Special Branch folk are not subject to this restriction for obvious reasons. If we are to have a truly open & democratic society, it’s important that law enforcement can go about its business anonymously & without undue restriction. But, as a well-known ex Queensland Premier once said ‘you never mind about that’.
Now, for any recidivists among you, please understand that we are well-prepared for any follow-up protests or “stupid” retaliatory attacks. Remember, as my old hero, former Premier Robert Askin who, when confronted by those anglo-celt anti-Vietnam War demonstrators back in 1970, whilst hosting visiting US President, Lyndon Johnson, in Sydney, allegedly said: we’re ready to ‘run over the bastards’.

Comment from ML
Time September 19, 2012 at 12:33 am

Let me bgein by asserting that I am of the conviction that all people should be given the right to free speech, regardless of race, creed or political affiliation. I am of the persuasion that all citizens of Australia deserve the right to engage peacefully in protests at their own discretion. I also support a lucid and transparent system in which protests can be organised expediently, but also a system that gives the citizenry forewarning about any incovenience that may be caused by said protests. I also believe that the machinations of the state, namely our police forces, are prone to a propensity of over-exertion and abuse of their powers similar to their military counterparts. I also am of the opinion that the war being conducted by ‘the coaltion of the willing’ in the Islamic world is imperialist, and by virtue of this unjust. As a pacifist, I deplore all forms of violence and see no justifiable cause that legitimises the use of violence.

Clearly, the use of brute force by our police cadre is unacceptable, as evidenced by the latest protests held by a group of Muslim demonstrators in Sydney on the 15th of September. There is no questioning that this rally would most likely have been a peaceful rally had the police not oppressed these concerned citizens who were reacting to a long discourse of racial intolerance engendered by political authorities in Australia. Yet this rally, as supported by various witnesses from both sides of the protest, contained belligerents not only from the jack-booted police force but also from the antagonistic side of religious intolerance.

It makes me feel frustrated and betrayed to think that such prominent and respected luminaries of the left-alternative such as John Passant and Rachel Evans would undermine the efforts of countless jurisprudent and peaceful protestors by glossing over the duality of the violence meted out in these recent protests. By boiling down the complicated mise-en-scene surrounding these protests we are being presented with an over-simplified, irrational and insulting idealistic highground from which to stare at with lofty aspirations from the streets of our sad realism.

What of the innocent youths who were dragged along to these protests to bear placards that do nothing but incite racial hatred between muslims and the other racial groups of Australia? What freedom of choice is paraded when a 10 year-old is thrusted under paternal threat into the fracas of a conflict that could’ve killed him and his older sister, despite fleeing to his mother for succour? I wonder if these children, who are still forming their systems of social values and have yet to hone their own moral compasses will develop a strong sense of free speech from their parents, after being shown how to effectively brainwash children, turning them into agents of mindless hatred. This is not the message of Islam, and it is the actions of these few hate-mongering individuals that equally sustained the violent confrontation initiated by our criminal police force.

I would urge all left-orientated readers to reconsider their decision to take the self-righteous path of adhering to a strictly idealist interpretation of the recent events in Sydney. We all know that the current situation in the police force is unacceptable. We know that the media in this country is shamelessly warped with racial bigotry and censorship. Despite these outrages, we must not stoop to the level of these belligerents. By protecting this violent protest under the guise of free speech we are not only undermining the valiant work of those who regularly protest legally and responsibly, but are sabotaging the work of the moderate majority of Muslim Australians who strive tirelessly to create a peaceful relationship and dialogue with the myriad races and beliefs of Australian society. We need change, and we must preserve our democratic right to protest, but aligning ourselves with aggressors, whether bearing batons or throwing rocks is certainly not the answer.



Comment from John
Time September 19, 2012 at 12:48 am

You know ML I’d respect this opinion if you actually campaigned against kids being fed ANZAC bullshit, a dangerous and perfidious doctrine that we Aussies have the divine right to invade other countries, something we force feed down our kids throats. There is no equivalence between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressors. Frankly I’d support the Muslims demonstrating if they did first attack the cops when they tried to storm the US consulate, the symbol of power of the biggest terrorist group in the world. The eyewitness reports however seem to suggest that the aggression came from the cops and the crowd responded, tired of being pushed around. I went to the Aboriginal tent embassy demo which every mainstream media outlet describe as a riot. It wasn’t (as later police reports made clear) but it was part of the agenda of demonising and vilifying indigenous people. Just on gut feel, why should this be any different? Or do we suddenly accept that the Murdoch press are truth tellers? Why only in this case is the Murdoch Press the bastion of virtue? Excuse My cynicism but now even New Matilda is being to raise, ever so meekly, doubts about the police actions.

In fact, as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X both realised, and certainly the ANC realised, turning the other cheek only let’s the oppressor win.

Comment from jack
Time September 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Im on the side of the protesters! not the police or the state!

I just sometimes think that some on the revolutionary left merely pay lip-service to the ‘critical’ part of the ‘unconditional yet critical support’ of allies against imperialism/allies in the struggle against racism, neoliberalism etc.

They don’t actually criticise when clearly, and sometimes quite often, there is a dire need for criticism!

For example, don’t you think that the whole notion of ‘brothers and sisters’ based on religion is reactonary and problematic and divisive?

Comment from John
Time September 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm

And if that criticism feeds into the general Islamophobia for example then it is not something one shouts from the roof tops as Islamophobia is about to sweep across the country and engulf us all.

Comment from John
Time September 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Jack and others, have a read of this. What do you think?

Comment from Dan Factor
Time September 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm

What about the violent protests which has resulted in people dying? Are you saying we have to support that as part of Muslims right to protest or we are not on the side of Muslims against racism?

Comment from John
Time September 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

The question is one for leftists in each country because the forces involved and their power or lack of it, and the nature of the politics of the demonstrators and groups within the demonstrations, will differ in each country. Socialists in Pakistan will make their own judgements, socialist in Egypt theirs etc. I am talking about a peaceful demonstration in Sydney which police attacked. That demonstration had some reactionary placards and slogans. Supporting the oppressed against the oppressor doesn’t mean siding with reaction. On the other hand the language of resistance often adopts these slogans as the most visible and close at hand because the protesters hear no alternative vocie of resistance.